World Circuit Records & Buena Vista Social Club

World Circuit Records & Buena Vista Social Club


Before leaving for Cuba, I met Nick Gold – a pioneer in world music production and distribution through World Circuit Records. He was the architect of the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club album.

Since ’86, World Circuit Records has produced some of world music’s most successful albums, specialising in Cuban and West African music. Unlike some mainstream labels, which have focused on producing music for the latest trend, World Circuit gives its artists autonomy over the style of the production to ensure authenticity.

Nick has produced many of the albums himself, as well as working with Jerry Boys, Ry Cooder and Youssou N’Dour.

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Back in the 90s, Gold had been listening to classic Cuban music from before the revolution of 1959.

He soon discovered that many of these great musicians, from Cuba’s golden age, were still alive. But they had largely been forgotten. Could he coax them out of ‘retirement’ and recapture their talents for the world to hear?

His original intention was to fly Malian musicians over to Cuba to collaborate with Cubans on the record. However, visa problems meant the Malians couldn’t make it to Cuba. And so, the plan either had to be scrapped or rejigged.

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Nick Gold called in his long-time collaborator Ry Cooder to help produce and play on the album.

It would ultimately cost Cooder a $25,000 fine for breaking the US trade embargo on Cuba. But, given what was to come, I doubt he has any regrets.

The album was released in 1997 and went on to sell more than 8 million copies worldwide. It won a Grammy in 1998 and its profile was boosted even further by a Wim Wenders documentary in 1999.

The album revisits Cuba’s pre-revolution classics, interpreted by some of its finest musicians of that era.

It includes performances by Cuban guitarists Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa.

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The initial intention of the project finally came to fruition in 2010, in the form of the AfroCubism album.

This pays testament to Gold’s tenacity and commitment to make it happen. The effort was rewarded with another Grammy nomination and the Songlines Music Award.

With so many musical patterns in common between West Africa and Cuba, this project was like reuniting two long lost musical family members. Traditional songs from each country are sung in each language, and the musical styles are blended and fused.

Buena Vista guitarist and singer, Eliades Ochoa, and Malian kora player, Toumani Diabate, play lead roles.

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World Circuit Records has continued its relationship with Buena Vista members. It has produced solo albums with singers and instrumentalists alike, most notably Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Ruben Gonzalez & Cachaíto.

6 of the members have since passed away but a larger format version of the collective, Orquesta Buena Vista, has continued to tour the world. They are playing a farewell tour this year, which included a date in the White House, and ends in the Karl Marx Theatre, Havana.

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In addition the Buena Vista and AfroCubism albums, World Circuit Records has made many other special collaborations possible between musical cousins separated by time, geographical space and political barriers. And it continues to nurture other unique world music fusions.

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The Grammy-winning collaboration between the African guitarist and pioneer of ‘desert blues‘, and the US blues and country guitarist, who was once ranked 8th on Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time‘.

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The Senegalese multi-instrumentalist has created a distinctive fusion of m’balax and flamenco genres, with production and contributions from m’balax pioneer Youssou N’Dour.

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Buena Vista bassist and nephew of the co-inventor of mamboOrlando ‘Cachaíto’ Lopez, jams with co-inventor of funkPee Wee Ellis. The album includes fusions of jazz, funkCuban genres and hip-hop.

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It was in 2010, during a round-the-world trip with my guitar, that I had my initial idea for Open Sauce Guitar.

I arrived back in the UK determined to develop the idea and get the skills I needed to make it happen.

I also signed myself up to a number of online communities, including the British Forum of Ethnomusicology, to dig deeper into ‘world music’.

4 months before I was due to fly to Cuba, I received word from the BFE that there would be a free seminar with Nick at Liverpool’s John Moores University.

The university has a great Ethnomusicology Department, owing to the city’s musical heritage.

The timing of this seminar was uncanny. I was nearing the end of the coursework for my music teaching licentiate and was beginning to feel the heat. This was just the sort of inspiration I needed to make a final push towards beginning my mission in Cuba.

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Nick spoke to a small audience of world music students and guests. He modestly described his beginnings, working in a record shop, community music projects and international band promotion. It’s clear that he has followed his ambitions relentlessly. Ultimately, he said, the just-go-there-and-do-it attitude has worked spectacularly for him.

I had a private chat with him after the seminar to discuss my plans in Cuba and beyond. He admired the concept and offered me words of advice and encouragement, which I haven’t forgotten.

Now, here I am in Cuba, about to see Buena Vista Social Club‘s guitarist, Eliades Ochoa play live in his backyard – Santiago de Cuba’s musical mecca, Casa de la Trova.

He is widely considered the finest Cuban guitarist of his generation and I’ll be attending with the Casa’s resident trovadora guitarist, Xiomara Vidal


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  1. Brilliant blog Kieran! It is informative, reflective and inspires an interest in the musical genres and fusions you’re exploring and so eloquently presenting to us in this blog. Love it!!!!

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